The following is an excerpt from my WW II lecture series – ” Is Man No More Than This?”  which is available in its entirety at March/April 2014 archives. The formatting is poor there and I am transferring some of the material to this blog site. This is from Lecture IV in the series: ” Marianne in Chains and Anne Frank in Hiding.” and the main topic was the Nazi Occupation in Europe. Please note this was originally an oral presentation which has been converted to print form. Thus it was designed to accommodate a certain cadence and delivery that cannot be entirely captured in the print, nevertheless this retains the essence of the story.


Millions perished during WW II, they died as anonymous victims, consigned to oblivion with no one to tell their stories. But in select cases we can put a human face on the suffering. The most iconic victim of the war was Anne Frank, and she did tell her story.

Here is a recap of the family’s experience. The Franks – Otto and Edith (parents), Margo and Anne (daughters), fled persecution in Germany in the 1930s and took refuge in Holland. Their application for entry into the United States was denied because of burdensome immigration policies and quotas. When Germany conquered Holland in 1940, the family was forced to hide in the Attic for twenty-five months before they were betrayed. While in their sanctuary, Anne began composing her ” Diary” at the age of 13. It was originally titled ” Tales of the Secret Annex” and destined to become a source of much confusion and controversy in the subsequent decades. It was not really a diary, it was not chronological. Designating it a memoir would be more accurate. For simplicity’s sake I will use the universally familiar title and refer to it as a “diary.”

There was actually not one diary but three: Version A which was compiled when Anne was 13; Version B, where she was making revisions before she died at the age of 15; and Version C, the one that was modified for public consumption. Version C is the amended edition. This was the copy arranged by Anne’s father Otto when he returned to Holland and found the scattered papers on the annex floor. It is a blend of versions A and B, censored and adapted for publication purposes, and eventually it mutated again into stage and film variations. ( There is also the relatively recent Version D which contains ” The Missing Pages” but that falls outside the purview of the time frame under discussion.)


When the Franks were betrayed, an Austrian officer ransacked the dwelling. When he discovered the Diary, he assumed it was not of any intelligence value because it was in an unlocked drawer. He just threw the papers on the floor where they remained until as noted above, Otto collected them. An anecdote about that officer. He was finally tracked down in 1963. Perhaps somewhat predictably, he was employed as a regular Austrian police officer. He was arrested and suspended from his job. Then in an unseemly act of temerity, the man responsible for the deaths of seven people (it wasn’t just the Franks hiding in the annex) complained because his reputation had been tarnished and he was subjected to financial hardship.

Resuming now with the topic of publication. A limited edition of Anne’s Diary was circulated in Holland in 1947 where it remained a provincial curiosity. Every American publishing firm rejected it. It was sitting on top of the reject pile and doomed for extinction at the Doubleday bureau in Paris when staff member Judith Jones grabbed it and began reading. She couldn’t put it down and it was saved. Otto Frank received an advance of $ 700 and it was released on June 12, 1952, Anne’s birthday; she would have been 23. It quickly began an international sensation.


When the Diary was converted to the Broadway and Hollywood versions, it was sanitized, gushingly optimistic, and some chose to de-emphasize that Anne was a Jew. (Which is actually very important.) For print translations, the sexual references and profanity were cleaned up to accommodate American and British tastes. Such content was apparently alien to those respective national audiences and might cause them to blush or descend into an orgy of moral pollution. The print edition in Germany underwent a significant overhaul. There was a great reluctance to offend the tender sensibilities in a country whose leaders had murdered the book’s author. (For more elucidation on this topic and the story of the Diary, I enthusiastically recommend ” Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, and the Afterlife” by Francine Prose.)

Another area of dispute was the question of authorship. Detractors insisted that no teen could have written it. This nonsense was repudiated by handwriting experts and her authorship was authenticated by forensic analysis of the Diary paper.

While parrying assaults from those naysayers, the Diary also became a source of contention in schools and libraries. It is the 13th most censored book in the United States. (Note: I am using the word “censorship” in the broadest sense. There is actually a distinction between censorship, which deletes or edits offensive phrases, and “banning”, which outlaws the book altogether.) Right-Wing Christians led the charge for censoring the book because of its sexual references, and the scenes where Anne was rebellious and showed disrespect to her parents. Teachers were actually fired for assigning it. In Tennessee ( what a coincidence, home of the Scopes Trial), seven Fundamentalist parents sued a school board claiming contact with the text could cause ” eternal damnation” for students because it was ” evil, polluted, and heathen.” They won the first round in court but the decision was reversed on appeal. In later interviews it was established that the guardians of public virtue had not read the book and condemned it for passages Anne had never written. The “offensive” content in question came from segments inserted in a Broadway production.

More ominously, both in Germany and the U.S. , Neo-Nazi groups stage Anne Frank book burnings. In Germany that makes one subject to criminal prosecution whereas in the U.S. there are no such statutes. They obviously missed the point of the book and practiced the very oppression that Anne was condemning. To this point in the series I have confined myself to reporting content without injecting any lengthy personal commentary and opinion. However I am going to depart from that stance temporarily to address that conduct. Some years ago when I was lecturing on book burnings during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the Nazi bonfires in Germany, I quoted some of the zealots who participated. Here is a paraphrasing and the essence of their attitudes: ” With each book I threw into the flames I felt more empowered. I found it intoxicating that I had the power to destroy thought.” I offer that it is advisable to be wary of those who share such sentiments. Censorship is evil. To quote the German poet Heinrich Heine: ” Where they burn books, they will, in the end, also burn people.” 


Contrary to the liberties taken with the film and stage adaptations, The Diary of Anne Frank is not a work of blind optimism, it is a tale of moral condemnation. Anne was not a naive, ill-informed teen. She secretly listened to the BBC and was aware of events outside the annex. She had pessimistic observations about her cruel oppressors. She asked why God singled out Jews for suffering. Jan Romein in her perceptive and remarkable essay ” A Child’s Voice” captures the true spirit of Anne’s contribution: ” More than all the evidence presented at the Nuremberg Trials, the Diary is an indictment of the witless barbarity of Fascism. 

Anne speaks to the emotional trauma: ” That’s the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible truths and be shattered.” 

There are horrible truths and facts to be faced. And the fact is that the most recognized victim of the Holocaust, was a precocious teenage girl who like so many young people had dreams, and her dreams would be shattered. She had dreams of becoming a famous writer but was betrayed along with her family and sent first to Auschwitz, then later transferred to Bergen-Belsen. She was an innocent girl whose only crime was being Jewish and became a victim of a monstrous regime. An innocent girl who heard whips snapping and saw dogs snarling as they ripped the flesh off vulnerable helpless victims. The horrible truth is that an emaciated Anne screamed when someone stole her meager rations and she would die a hellish death due to starvation and typhus in the spring of 1945, just two weeks before the camp was liberated.

But her voice and her spirit lives on despite the neo-Nazis burning her book, despite ideologues trying to ban her book, and despite the noxious Holocaust deniers who peddle their pernicious falsehoods.

And I close with a quote from Francine Prose that speaks to that voice and that spirit: ” Meanwhile across the equator and around the world, Anne Frank’s strong and unique and beautiful voice is still being heard by readers who may someday be called upon to chose between cruelty and compassion. Guided by a conscience awakened by a girl in an Amsterdam attic, one citizen of Ukraine or one Argentinian policeman may yet opt for humanity and chose life over death.”   









It’s been awhile but now I am back with the latest edition of one of your favorite topics – Wayne County crime reports. Let us begin in the delightful alluring hamlet of Lyons and advance from there.

THE PUMP DON’T WORK CAUSE THE DRUNK HAS THE HANDLE   Ken is a 53-year-old who has been driving for many years. Occasionally alcohol has impaired his judgment. One of the things that has confounded him over that time is gas pumps. That’s right, those defiant mechanical monsters where you have to get a firm grip on the nozzle then direct it into a slot to activate the gas release. At the Kwik-Fill in Lyonon one of those evenings when the brisk wind from Lake Ontario swept across the canal and into the sober usually placid village, Ken staggered and sloshed away as he tried to master the intricacies of getting the right instrument into the hole and enticing the lubricant to cooperate. The staff at the store were reeling in belly laughs as Ken wobbled to the left and probed, then it was several unsteady steps to the right as metal crunched against metal on his vehicle, but nary a drop was to be squirted. Poor Ken was an object of frustration as he grunted and gasped and sweated but he just couldn’t even ejaculate a modest spurt let alone a full money shot. As he finally reached his despair threshold he stumbled to his driver’s seat. He was heard muttering when State Police greeted him and awarded him a Felony DWI and a ticket for Refusing to Submit to a Breath Test. Fortunately for Ken, his vehicle did not need gas as it was towed from the scene, and because he has two prior DWI’s he was escorted to the county jail and held on $ 500 bail.

FELIX DON’T BE A HERO   Felix is a proud 25-year-old who has a pencil thin black beard that stretches from ear to ear. This Macedon resident could use a little trim job and maybe that is why he stole nearly twenty dollars in merchandise from the Newark Wal-Mart which is strategically located near the Wayne Count Sheriff’s Office. When he was taken into custody, Petit Larceny proved to be the least of his problems. He also happened to be in possession of certain prescription medications of a narcotic variety that didn’t belong to him. This tacked on two counts of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance. Still the court was willing to be lenient by issuing just appearance tickets and this is where Felix should have left well enough alone. But he didn’t, Felix wanted to be a hero. He became defiant and boasted to the judge and officers that he would not come to court and no one could make him. He is now in Wayne Co. jail with bail set at $ 1,000. Felix is clearly not a hero, he is a fool.

WILL HE TURN OVER A NEW LEAF ?   Joe from the Town of Ontario, age 35, is proud of his commitment to a balanced diet and he likes his meals made to high nutritional standards. Clearly something went amiss at supper time in his home and he took out his wrath on his wife and started firing brussel sprouts at her. She expertly dodged that volley then retaliated with a sprightly brussel sprout strike of her own. Soon brussel sprouts filled the air; much to the amusement of their children who don’t like those veggies anyway. It was nip and tuck for awhile, and Joe sustained a healthy-sized welt from the top of his nose to his cheekbone, and then violated brussel sprout fighting protocol by lunging for his wife and putting her into a chokehold.

His wife conceded defeat then called 911 and had him arrested. Joe was charged with Criminal Obstruction of Breathing, Harassment, and Endangering the Welfare of a Child. He was released with a Stay Away Order of Protection and court appearance ticket. Hopefully that will deter him from future outbursts and he can turn over a new leaf.

WHEN A LOOK IS WORTH ?   We return to the Wal-Mart on rte. 31 in Newark for our next exciting entry. This involves the case of Brenden the Rodent who is 23 and has eerie glimmering green space monster eyes that look like they could shoot lasers. He entered the bustling store which is a magnet for oddballs and creepy types from all over Wayne Co. and eyed his target – a female of his affection – then he stared at her – a deep penetrating menacing stare. She became slightly uncomfortable because she has had contact with the Rodent before and considers him a pest. She exited the store and hustled to her vehicle and he scrambled behind her then stood outside her car – and stared at her some more. Not a word was spoken, the church bells all were broken, and there was just that look, it was worth a hundred or maybe two hundred words. Well the victim got in the last word because she contacted police and Brenden was arrested for Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree as he was in Violation of an Order of Protection for previous Wal-Mart staring incidents. He was released and issued an Order of Protection; enough said.

SMOKING WAS BAD FOR HIM   Throwing a cigarette out a window in Wayne Co. is one of the most serious offenses a person can commit. Choke a woman, get an Order of Protection. Steal from Wal-Mart and harass people, get an appearance ticket. But throw a cigarette out the window and law enforcement swarms to the scene. Cherry red-faced Brian in Williamson found that out the hard way when he was cruising home at about 3 a.m. and made the grievous mistake of tossing a lit cigarette out his car window. State Troopers gunned patrol cars and flashing red lights lit up the dreary Wayne Co. night. Poor Brian was startled by all the commotion and in a minor lapse of judgment threw a beer can at one of the officers. This gesture made the officer angry.

Well the long and wet of it is that Brian was apparently intoxicated. He was charged with a DWI and Refusal to Submit to a Breath Test. He was actually quite uncooperative. Maybe that is why additional charges of Tinted Windows, Failure to Keep Right, Consumption of an Alcoholic Beverage in a Motor Vehicle, and Failure to Attach a Valid Registration were included. Oh, and there was that little matter of throwing out the cigarette and tossing the beer can at the officer, score that as two counts of Disposing Refuse on a Highway. Brian was released with an appearance ticket and admonished about his smoking – he was informed smoking was bad for him.




” Live long and prosper.” – from Star Trek

” What in the world would make anyone think the boomer generation would suddenly start following the rules just because we’re getting a Social Security check?” – Richard Croker ” The Boomer Century: 1946-2046

” On a bad day, there’s always lipstick.” – Audrey Hepburn

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, beginning on New Year’s Day, 2011, ten-thousand baby boomers a day were turning 65 and those numbers will continue for the next nineteen years. In short, despite all the drugs, alcohol, and inhalation of toxic chemicals, it means the boomers aren’t dropping off at the usual rate. Maybe it was the breakfast cereals and Wonder Bread we always saw advertised in our tender years, but whatever the elixir, Nine million baby boomers will survive into their late 90s and 3 million will reach one hundred. 

No person with a shred of sanity will dispute that us boomers (born between 1946-64) are the coolest people in history; or challenge the surefire conviction that we grew up listening to the coolest music. Nothing before and after even comes close.  And as the Star Trek quote and statistics at the outset indicate, the boomer generation boasts of longevity; whether it is prospering or not is open to dispute. At the front end of our demographic surge we were born when Harry Truman was president, at the very tail end, there was Lyndon Johnson, who we deemed as a somewhat alien creature. Squeezed in between was Dwight Eisenhower, America really “liked Ike”, and a cool president named John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

The first birth pangs of our generation echoed through the hospital halls when the soldiers returned home from a momentous conflict and began procreating with ardor. Within two decades a marvelous little pill permitted the ardor without the procreating part and the baby boom dribbled to a close. Things went up and things came down and when the dust or the copulation equivalent settled, over 75 million potential rock n’ roll junkies were crammed into the two decades of energetic reproduction.  Sacred cows fell by the wayside as the upstarts redefined sexual mores and fractured the long-standing sexual canon. They would also propel massive change in the entertainment and commercial landscape. In the nascent boomer years, television was largely just a curiosity, within a decade it was almost mandatory for households. And oh yes, we had the coolest TV shows, like The Twilight Zone and The Fugitive, and a dozen or so more; with rare exceptions, nothing has come close since. If the excitement became all too much, there was Anacin and Bayer to cure the headache; the commercials told us so. It would be remiss not to mention a string of sensational movies. Us boomers were treated to the deluxe selection. Try and top this, Alfred Hitchcock with The Birds and Psycho. After watching them, when your heart rate returned to normal, you could relax to Breakfast at Tiffany’s (thanks to Audrey and a beguiling open with Moon River in the background), then you could crank up the pulse again with the Bond movies; Bond, James Bond. Sorry, nobody did the role better than Sean Connery.  Whew! We definitely needed to cool it down; so we did, with Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke.  Then there was that music, Elvis, the Beatles, Hendrix … Rock n’ roll was here to stay, and it was ours.

With all that on the cultural menu a mutinous streak was inevitable. The quarrelsome tone started out tentatively, reached a crescendo, and now with the government safety net checks arriving, it is clear the boomers aren’t exiting quietly.  Rightly or wrongly, the generation is defined by their rejection of the prescribed social consensus. Who could have seen it coming? For nearly a decade after the war obedient short-haired boys and girls without blemish marched off to church, usually a Protestant one, though once-scorned Catholics were starting to get a place at the table. At the altar of dogma we learned how to love a pro- free market Jesus while we absorbed the gospel of American exceptionalism and how to spot deviants. Salvation temporarily intact, bodily fitness came next. Many youngsters joined the Boy Scouts and learned virtue while eating brownies and gulping down cholesterol clogged milk. There was the female equivalent of the Scouts but whether they ate brownies or not was not disclosed. Still there were goblins afoot. Subversion was a Red menace tactic and by stealth subliminal Marxism crept into everything from comic books to the silver screen. That was the cold part of the plot. Peradventure the Cold War got hot, dutiful students were all trained to dive under dilapidated desks at a moment’s notice should some nefarious Communist sonofabitch get an itch to punch that much-feared nuclear button. It didn’t hurt to whisper a prayer while you waited for the dreaded atomic shoe to drop. At least Americans had the advantage if it came to that. Our team could invoke the Almighty, the godless Reds had no such recourse.  My class and many like it had an even bigger advantage as we were crouched under sanctified desks in a Catholic school so we were assured the pleas got priority over the heretic Protestants, Jews, and stray pagans. All those beatings by the nuns not only pounded ethics and faith into us, we got preference on the petition pipeline as a bonus. The payoff was possibly being spared, or at least getting cooked last in an unspeakable nuclear liquidation. We once came close over Cuba, but President Kennedy kept his cool and won the showdown. Saner heads prevailed and no one cashed the doomsday ticket, but that grammar school faith and those ideals would get their first stern test in the 50s and the whole fabric would unravel in those fabulous and fractious 60s.

While conformity seemed the order of the day there were cracks in the edifice. Hugh Hefner started stroking the sex sinews when he established Playboy Magazine in 1953 right after Kinsey told us that luscious Lily in the next Levittown lane was not as straightlaced as we thought. And while Marilyn was making mouths water in that famous inaugural spread and McCarthy was hounding Hollywood, a ” Wild One” roared across the screen in a leather jacket and motorcycle, his name was Marlon, the best of his craft, ever. Rack up another cultural icon for the boomers; yup, Brando, was ours, and he reeked of rebellion. Parents could barely catch their breath as they moved from crisis to crisis. They had to go racing for their Benjamin Spock guide every time a Holden Caulfield or James Dean reared a dissenting head. The hits kept coming and causing more consternation. There was a story about a Mockingbird, and a killing In Cold Blood, before Catch-22 became a permanent part of the lexicon. The boomers had books, truckloads of good ones and cool ones, and in school you had to read them because there were teachers who ” made you an offer you couldn’t refuse.”  But nothing could prepare adults for the next round of satanically inspired earth shaking commotion when Elvis arrived on the scene. The souls and torsos of the youth culture were up for grabs (literally?), those teen hormones went into overdrive.

Everywhere you looked there were frisky teenagers. There were 13 million of them by 1956, and abetted by the postwar boom, they had money. Advertisers knew that population was a mother lode, or better stated, a teen lode for discretionary spending. There was an estimated 7 billion dollars a year available to pry loose from those wandering lust-laden hands. Young ladies were practicing to be young women, just a dab of lipstick or two put the right touch to the conversion rites. Revlon offered a new shade every six months. The excitement was palpable. Lose that cherry and trade it in for a pink hue and you too could look like Audrey Hepburn. Well, maybe not, but over 20 million was spent in trying. And odors were out, antiperspirants were in, or on. I told you the boomers were cool. Put another 20 million in the profit pot, compliments of deodorants. Armpits secure from microbial intruders, it was off to the record store. 45’s were all the fashion. After you heard Jerry Lee Lewis on the radio, you could invite him into your home. Figuratively speaking of course. Seventy-five million a year was spent on records.

If anything defined the era, it was the music. Elvis was the first of the rock idols as he brought us Jail House Rock and Hound Dogs, tame enough tissue as he opened the floodgates. Then on February 9, 1964, seventy-three million Americans were in for a national orgasmic viewing treat with teen girls hyperventilating from estrogen overload when the chords to All My Lovin’ resounded. The Beatles had arrived and the youth culture would never be the same, truly all our senses would be stripped. There may have been differences about Vietnam and who should get what rights, but the music was a shared treasure, it offered cords of kinship that bound us. And the tune cup runneth over. You could ride the waves of protest with Baez and Dylan, quake in the Beatles frenzy, go soft pop and surfin’ with the Beach Boys, or flirt cosmic with Hendrix. Let’s do that again. In one decade, Dylan, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Hendrix, and oh, throw in the Stones, Clapton, the Supremes, Otis Redding, Led Zeppelin, CCR, Simon and Garfunkel, the Airplane, and CSN, and of course the immortal Janis. For the frosting, Santana, the Who, and the Eagles were on the horizon, and for those with country inklings, how about Patsy, Willie, and Johnny C. ? I left out a few dozen or so, I know, but point taken, us boomers were not only cool, but we had the coolest music. On our merry cruising way, we could turn on the radio and switch the stations for a feast of choices from ear candy to psychedelia. Shades of American Graffiti if you will.

Music was our religion and it supplied us with a prolonged adolescence. The lyrics said it all: ” Hair flow it, show it. Long as God can grow it …”; we could grow our hair, romp carefree, flirt with lofty idealism, and flutter on the breeze of transcendence. Sigh, they were truly heady times, and it seemed like it could go on forever. It must have been a hallucination. That Woodstock spirit started to sag at a speedway named Altamont, and then the Beatles split up, down went Jimi and Janis and Jim, and a bete noir president resigned. The songs became more somber and self-absorbed, reality warnings flashed that our adolescence was over. The hair stopped growing as long, if it could grow at all. We felt that tug at the heartstrings that we were finite, like our rock stars. Contemplation started replacing fornication. What had we wrought?

Historians imparting different ideological slants exchange verbal bombs over the boomer repercussions. Those from the conservative camp see a moral wasteland, a consensus carnage. This scornful reactionary critique blame the hardships and misfortunes of today on the excesses of the boomers, the “Me Generation” who pilfered and didn’t ante up. ( The stats don’t back that up. The boomers were and are actually very philanthropic. See Richard Croker – The Boomer Century) Free love fractured the family so the story goes. Those of right-wing persuasion seem to have a fetish for the sexual organs. To hear them tell it, it was boomer carnality that was the cause of every woe on the planet. My God! You would think our predecessors walked straight out of a Margaret Atwood novel and coitus ran by the clock. Assume the missionary position: Ready, aim, fire, Done! Leave a little dew on the lily and off to congratulations at the men’s club.

Women were the most culpable in the degeneration. It was mostly those of feminist stripes who doomed the apron to the dustbin and even had the audacity to demand equal pay and become doctors, lawyers, and legislators. Surely society couldn’t stand the shockwaves. It was bad enough that women didn’t know their place, neither did blacks and other minorities. When in doubt, blame the communists or other firebrands. One look at Abby Hoffman or H. Rap Brown provoked outrage. The social ramparts were stormed, the center didn’t hold, and chaos was reared in the wake of all the ruckus. My goodness, you would think we erred at every turn and as payback we got Trump.

More generous judgments find much to be praised. There was wreckage to be sure and the music turned downright mortifying … Justin Bieber for Christ’s sake. But even with the wrong turns and the scourge of Reality TV,  there was progress on many fronts. In 1963, Bull Connor met his match in Birmingham when he squared off with the heroic Martin Luther King Jr. A poster child for Southern racism, Connor with his fire-hoses won the battle, King won the war. The public galvanized behind him and within a year, a Civil Rights Act would be passed. A boxer named Muhammad Ali, perhaps the most iconic figure in the history of sports, challenged the plantation mentality. It would cost him dearly, but he would prevail. There was a message to be had – you can stand up to the system and you can win. The times they were a changin’. Women threw down the gauntlet, the era of being treated as second-class citizens was spent. Equal meant equal, it’s an ongoing battle but at least it is being waged. For every hideous screech owl like Anne Coulter there is a Rachel Maddow. There is a counteroffensive to turn back the clock, Supreme Court decisions bear watching. But the boomers bequest was immutable: hit us and we hit back.

The historical verdict is still pending on the boomers, it will no doubt see many revisions. There were the illusions, thank you Aquarius, pleasant thoughts but the utopia was a chimera. There was senseless mayhem with riots that crippled cities, and radical factions with their penchant for anarchy and violence, entreaties for a revolution but no solutions. Blots on the boomer account for sure. But they did rise to the occasion to protest an unjust war, they did shake the windows and rattled the walls and politicians and presidents sat up and took notice. However imperfectly, they assaulted the bastions of discrimination, it would never be consigned to the backburner again. That is their greatest and proudest legacy, voices can and will be heard. The boomers were and are a cantankerous bunch, of that there is no dispute, and now the coolest generation ever still play their oldies as they speed through a Stop sign on the way to the bank to deposit that Social Security check.











” A free marketplace of ideas was foreign to the Russian and especially the Soviet tradition.” – William Tubman

” I paid too heavy a price for perestroika.” – Mikhail Gorbachev

In 1988 while the shockwaves of Glasnost and Perestroika were shaking social and economic pillars in the Soviet Union, citizens were exercising newfound freedom by lining up to see previously banned films. A favorite was the American movie – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A pleasant diversion no doubt, but hardly rising to the scale of mania that would engulf the country in the ensuing decades. Marx with all his poetic apocalyptic ranting which passed for ” scientific socialism”, would not have been amused. Communism was going in reverse.

The Soviet empire would collapse, there would be a brief flirtation with democracy and capitalism and a coup attempt or two thrown in to add flavor to the madcap transitions, then a new Russia would emerge. These were intoxicating times and after Mikhail Gorbachev made his exit, habitually inebriated Boris Yeltsin took the stage. A noisy populist leader, he could move the masses but wasn’t sure where he was moving them. Turbulence was his legacy, the impatient proletariat longed for stability. There was even a shortage of cigarettes; a sure sign of decline and decadence in any culture. Yeltsin’s hand-picked successor was Vladimir Putin. The mob and multitude craving guidance and order made them ripe for a dictator. That’s hardly unique to Russia. Putin felt he qualified. He preached democracy and played the czar. The public was pacified as he proceeded to iron out the turmoil wrinkles while specializing in intrigues and sprinkling in an occasional assassination to bring the media and opposition to heel. When the dust settled and the corpses were collected, the new Russia would bear a striking resemblance to the old Soviet Union without all the ideological warbling. In essence, the country had flown back into the cuckoo’s nest.

Within these tides of change, there would be a battle for the historical narrative. Stalin would be central to the revisionist fancy and he would have his image rehabilitated. After a decade where Uncle Joe’s reputation suffered a slump with him portrayed as a venomous malignant brute, Putin’s obedient propagandists steered the critique toward more eyebrow raising plaudits. Adhering to state (Putin) directives, the education system gave Stalin a makeover as a benign figure to be venerated who waged domestic terror solely for the welfare of the country. Survivors of the Gulag must have found this enlightening. Such dubious historical mutations would not be confined to the Putin autocracy. They would spill into neighboring states where self-serving Putin imitators would amend their own respective national scripts.

According to the new fiction, Stalin is hailed as a quasi- messiah figure and Mikhail Gorbachev branded as the devil. The latter even had a birthmark on his forehead that signified him as such. It is ironic that the man who opened the gateways to freedom, however fleeting, would be demonized. To understand how all this transpired and how the Soviet empire was launched lurching toward its demise, it is instructive to see what shaped Gorbachev’s views and and how he would alter the course of his nation and the international order. That will be the focus of this first edition.

While he was still navigating the slippery track up the ladder of the communist hierarchy, Gorbachev traveled to Western Europe in the 1970s. He observed countries who enjoyed affluence and economic efficiency on a scale much greater than the Soviet Union, and they did so without fealty to heavy doses of Marxist dogma. Agriculture in the West was succeeding quite handsomely without all the utopian fuss and panting, whereas caloric intake in the U.S.S.R. showed scant improvement in the generations since the Bolsheviks assumed control in 1917. Such perceptions were digested for future reference.

When Gorbachev became leader in 1985 he was intent on reforming the stagnant Soviet system. It would be a colossal task in a country beset by rampant alcoholism, absenteeism and/or indifference at work, and an appalling infant mortality rate. A dysfunctional hospital system crystallized the infirmity affecting the country: 20 % of the medical facilities lacked any hot water and another 3-5 % lacked even cold water. This was a country clearly in need of a surgical overhaul, but Gorbachev had to move cautiously as “reform” was anathema to many of the purportedly orthodox ideologues who still sat in strategic government positions. For nearly two decades, survival depended on loyalty to Breshnev; the drooling incoherent babbling of his waning years not withstanding. Loyalty and mediocrity went hand in hand. Americans are experimenting with their own variation at present. That is, babbling and mediocrity in the leadership ranks. Anyway, the Soviet sycophants and good bureaucrats (an oxymoron?) paid lipservice to Marxist-Leninist doctrine while enjoying the best of what Western capitalist consumer imports could offer. For the ordinary citizen without Communist Party affiliations, securing even basic commodities required heroic patience; or bribes. It was no way to run a modern economy. Even Alan Greenspan could tell you that.

Progress would have been glacial under the best of circumstances, then the bottom fell out of the oil market. It was the country’s cash cow. ( Fluctuating prices remain an issue that still bedevils Putin today.) When prices dropped from $31.75 a barrel in November of 1985 to 10 dollars a barrel in the spring of ’86 an already brittle edifice began to wobble precariously. Domestically, the loss of income threatened the standing of the political and military elite, and compromised purchases of desperately needed grain imports. In areas where Moscow exerted influence, the shortcomings in revenue put a severe strain on maintaining a presence in Eastern Europe and in subsidized client states like Cuba which relied heavily on Soviet largesse. The exasperating Afghanistan military adventure added to the mounting distress.

With all that on the menu, Gorbachev still was not ready to abandon the communist vision. It should be stressed he did not come in to demolish the Marxist-Leninist state but to save it. Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (economic and political reform) were to be remedies not wrecking balls. A catastrophe on April 26, 1986 would deliver a severe jolt to his plans. The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl toppled the last of Gorbachev’s illusions. He was assured the mishap was contained. That was stretching the truth even by Soviet double-speak standards. The safeguards proved wanting, and when word and radioactivity leaked out and the full magnitude of the debacle was finally conveyed, Gorbachev had a meltdown of his own.  He railed to the Politboro that the whole fiasco was a result of “stunning irresponsibility”, and if they didn’t decode that phrasing properly, he added, ” They all fucked up.” Modifying his colorful description when confiding in his wife Raisa, he indicated that the entire Soviet system was broken beyond repair.

There would be a confluence of factors that would contribute to the Soviet Union’s ultimate unraveling. As indicated above there was the sluggish economy and the inertia of the ruling bloc. There was costly military competition with the United States and continuing agitation for more freedom in Eastern Europe. But as author Jeffrey Engel has commented, ” It was Gorbachev who pushed the snowball down the hill and it became an avalanche.” His preferred gradualist approach was no longer adequate, it was reform full steam ahead.

While temporarily isolating his rivals, Gorbachev accelerated the reworking of the economy. Useless and redundant committees were jettisoned. State planning quotas were replaced by more incentive driven mechanisms. Inefficiency was no longer rewarded. It did not go smoothly. A nation with little experience navigating the sinews of such a system was ill-adapted to the wholesale changes. Likewise on the political front. Free elections and a free press made for a free-for-all. And as the economy remained sluggish, the Pandora’s Box of freedom that Gorbachev had opened, made him a target of the wrath. Yeltsin became one of his most strident detractors. Screwball squawking was the order of the day, and this was even before Twitter.

Still, something had to be done. With the economy in turmoil, Gorbachev decided to cut his losses elsewhere. Eastern Europe had long been an albatross. For decades a flashpoint in the Cold War, the satellite states were becoming an increasing and expensive burden. The Soviets were supplying them oil at 4-5 times less than world market rates. It required the presence of a half-million troops to keep potential agitators from straying too far from the prescribed Marxist agenda. A 1987 visit to Ceaucescu’s wretched outpost of oppression in Romania confirmed Gorbachev’s worst suspicions. More private fiefdom than workers’ paradise, Romania was hardly worth saving. Even worse, elsewhere, the Poles could not get enough toilet paper. Not that it mattered to rural Poles, 3/4ths of them still didn’t have indoor toilets. You can’t run a nation on doctrine alone. Poland wanted out and you can’t blame them. People will only tolerate so much deprivation until the bottom falls out. A better way of life must include an adequate supply of toilet paper and a tolerable place to use it.

It would be remiss not to mention another itchy spot, Hungary. The Hungarians have been a stiff-necked rabble-rousing clan for centuries and caused the Soviets fits on more than one occasion since WWII. Oh they had toilets and toilet paper because they did their waltz with the West and could access consumer goods. It was called ” Goulash Communism” and this slight deviation was generally tolerated as long as the leadership recited the mandatory mantras. But the Hungarians still weren’t satisfied, and they had a visceral dislike and distrust of the Russians. There is an old joke from when they were under the Soviet yoke. It goes like this: “A Russian and a Hungarian find a treasure. The Russian says we will split it equally. The Hungarian responds, No Ivan, we will split it 50-50.”  By 1989, when Hungarian leader Miklos Nemeth told Gorbachev he wanted to tear down fences separating East from West, Gorbachev was quite amenable to the idea. Down came the fences. The freedom fever fanned out. The dominoes fell, then the unthinkable transpired, in East Germany, the most heavy-handed of police states, a famous Wall in Berlin was sent tumbling toward the rubble heap in 1989. Strains of Ode to Joy wafted through the air. A symphony of liberty wailed as each brick fell. The old order had been torn asunder.

The rapid stream of events caught the seemingly cunning and capable Western intelligence agencies completely by surprise. Nevertheless, when the scribes put pen to paper they made it seem inevitable. In a rather hasty and self-congratulatory rendering of history, Americans via Ronald Reagan, drove Gorbachev to the brink and nudged the Soviet Union over the edge. It makes for some feel-good tale telling but largely qualifies as claptrap. Whether it was Reagan or some other celebrity in the White House doing all the chest-thumping, the Soviet Union was reeling toward its reckoning by its own devices. By 1991, there were no more reprieves. The ” Republics” who had been reluctantly fastened to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics leaped to the perilous highway of independence and a pen stroke by Gorbachev on Christmas of that year made the dissolution of the empire official. The grandiose Marxist-Leninist pow-wow had lasted less than a century. Those with longer standing political adventures should pay heed. There are no guarantees when it comes to playing sovereignty roulette.

Such ruminations didn’t act as a brace on the back-slapping and jubilation in many quarters on both sides of the now extinct Iron Curtain, and one rather short-sighted apologist from the capitalist ranks even prematurely declared ” The End of History.” The Russians apparently weren’t the only ones who indulged in historical alchemy. Those with more discernment prefer to consume their history in larger chunks. Yes, Gorbachev became a victim of perestroika and the Soviet Union was gone but a massive Russia staggering in tumult remained and those former republics would be festering sores that would not heal. A steady hand and sober mind would be needed to steer Russia through the new and treacherous pathways of a country all aglow in the free marketplace of ideas and the intricacies of an uncharted geopolitical order. Boris Yeltsin possessed neither. The Cuckoo’s Nest beckoned.




What’s in a name? Well when you have the initials KKK, quite a bit. His name was Kaspar K. Kubli (One trusts he was not related to our local incarnations of Kublis) and he lived in Oregon where he served on the Portland City Council before advancing to become Speaker of the House in the state legislature in 1916. That would not be remarkable in itself except KKK was a member of the KKK and because of his initials, he was exempt from paying membership dues.

True to his Klan roots, he was a racist and a sexist. He pushed through legislation mandating sterilization for the “feeble-minded” (Trump would qualify today), and sexual perverts (Trump qualifies again but that was directed at gay men), and he supported excluding women from juries and using injunctions to suppress strikes.

Probably when he was born his Swiss parents never dreamed that in naming their son he would fit so seamlessly with one of the nation’s prominent hate groups.


I will give you the source first then get to the commentary.

The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition – Linda Gordon.

In the 19-teens and 1920s when the Klan experienced a significant revival, women formed their own branches – the WKKK, Women’s KKK. A large proportion of Klan groups were established north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Because many of the states lacked a sufficient number of black people to hate, Catholics and Jews became the targets of their hatred.

The WKKK needed a woman heroine to serve as their symbol. A heroine that would represent the needed virtues of chastity, yet powerful; even militant as the case was. Apparently being a warrior was not necessarily an unladylike feature. And equally imperative, the heroine would defend against foreign invaders. (Suspicious Italian Catholics, among other lesser ethnic groups were roaming about America in the 20s and polluting the country.)

Evidently no White Anglo-Saxon Protestant woman met the criteria, so digging well into the past,  Joan of Arc was recruited to serve as an adequate substitute. What the hell, a French Catholic representing a group that despised Catholics may seem a little bit of a contradiction, but she was white and at least she wasn’t Jewish.

Joan’s image did receive a little makeover in order to qualify. One of the publications showed Joan dressed in Klan robes riding a charging horse and wielding a sword. One suspects Joan would have been honored; or not.